An OECD report on the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic says that it has driven a decrease in UK life expectancy, an increase in expected deaths, and a doubling of mental health problems

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The UK experienced a drop in life expectancy, an increase in the expected number of deaths, and rising mental health problems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has highlighted.

The OECD health at a glance 2021 report says that life expectancy fell in 24 out of 30 countries whose data were comparable, declining in the UK by 1 year during the pandemic, from 81.4 years in 2019 to 80.4 years in 2020. The average reduction across OECD countries was 0.6 years. In addition, all-cause mortality in 2020 and for the first 6 months of 2021 increased by 11.7% in the UK, compared with the national average for 2015–2019.

The study describes the mental health impact of COVID-19 as ‘significant and negative’, with the prevalence of anxiety and depression more than double that observed pre-pandemic in most countries with available data, ‘most notably in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States’. The prevalence of depression in the UK has risen from 10% in 2019 to 21% in 2021.

According to the OECD report, the UK performs well on many key indicators of care quality, but there is scope to further reduce avoidable hospital admissions. The average amount spent on health in the UK rose from 10.2% of gross domestic product in 2019 to 12.8% last year, the 12th highest of the 30 countries. But the UK has the second lowest rate of hospital beds and doctors in Europe, with three doctors and 2.5 hospital beds per 1000 people. The average numbers of doctors and hospital beds per 1000 people across the OECD are 3.6 and 4.4, respectively, and both are increasing. The OECD highlights that staff shortages in health and long-term care are ‘more of a binding constraint than hospital beds and equipment’.

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